11 November 2016

Some IP Sanity out of the EU

One of the differences between something like patents and copyrights and trademarks is that the first two are of limited duration, and the latter is forever.

This is why I am heartened that the EU Court Of Justice has ruled that the basic form of the Rubik's cube cannot be trademarked:
You all should be familiar with a Rubik's Cube, the three-dimensional puzzle toy that for some reason your grandmother kept on her coffee table to frustrate you while she watched Matlock. This invention of the 1970s still enjoys widespread popularity, with hundreds of millions of them being sold every year. The toy has been patented for some time, but ten years ago, a British company that manages the intellectual property rights for the toy also applied for trademark protection on the cube's design in the EU. The reason for this should be obvious: patent protections last for limited amounts of time, while trademark rights exist essentially in perpetuity, so long as it's actively used in the marketplace. It's an end-around to patent law designed to lock up a monopoly.

But, in the case of the Rubik's Cube, it didn't work, as the European Union Court of Justice has correctly determined that the trademark applied for by Seven Towers was for a functional and technical solution, not one of branding. German competitor Simba Toys had challenged the trademark, and it won.

ECJ judges agreed with Simba Toys' arguments. Their decision is final and cannot be appealed.

"In examining whether registration ought to be refused on the ground that shape involved a technical solution, EUIPO and the General Court should also have taken into account non-visible functional elements represented by that shape, such as its rotating capability," they said.

EUIPO will now have to issue a new decision based on the ECJ judgment.
Trade and service marks are to protect branding, not functionality, and what the Rubik;s folks were doing was trying to apply a trade mark to functional characteristics, because any patent has long since expired.

Good call by the court.


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